Another experience I had around the same time reflects the rather odd psychosis that is a property of writers of all types. I belonged to the Dallas Songwriter’s Association and attended the monthly meetings where the membership did a song critique for anyone who was interested. I played a new song and this one guy…he was a New Yorker (wouldn’t you know it!)…just ripped it to shreds. In retrospect, much of what he said was accurate. Still, it seemed to me that he was just trying to get my goat. Well, he did. After the meeting I sat in my car and pretty much had a temper tantrum. Once again, I asked myself why I did this and thought maybe I should just check it in and quit. I found myself repeatedly saying, “Forget it”…okay, I wasn’t saying “forget it,” I was saying another word that starts with the letter F. At some point in the process, it occurred to me that maybe the best thing I could do was to write a song about “Forget It”…well, using the other F word, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Then I thought, “You can’t use that word and hope to get a song recorded for radio airplay.” Remember, this was the 80s. So I thought a little while longer and decided I could change it to “Who cares.” I wound up writing a beautiful love ballad entitled “Who Cares” which my good friend and band mate at the time Kimberly Moon recorded. Crazy but typical of a songwriter.
A non-songwriter friend of mine, Terry Jaremko, who dearly loves music, told me this. “You say exactly what I would have said if I knew how to say it.” I had to think about that but after awhile, it made sense. A song needs to express something universal; otherwise people do not connect with it. Of all the songs I love, my very favorite song is “Good Old Boys Like Me,” a Don Williams hit written by fellow Beaumont, Texas native, Bob McDill. In three minutes, Bob has captured the contradictions, the irony, the nobility, the essence of the experience of growing up in the South. It is a country masterpiece.
I tell people that when my friend and super-songwriter, Allan Chapman, first played his song “These Cowboy Boots” for me, I told him it was the story of my life. I then say that he responds in his deep Texas drawl, “it ain’t about YOUR life, it’s about MY life.” I say, “That’s a relief as there’s a line about a lady’s bed down in Banderas that I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my wife.” None of this actually happened except for the part where I realized he had captured my life experience as he wrote about his own. Still, it makes a good intro for the song, which I play pretty much every time I perform anywhere.
The greatest compliment I’ve ever received came from a woman up in Colorado. My friend Gene Corbin and I had just finished our show at the Black Rose Acoustic Society, a wonderful listening venue around Colorado Springs. We were selling and autographing CDs hand over fist and I was already feeling pretty darn good. A woman asked me to sign her CD. As I did, she said, “I felt like you were writing about my life.” I almost said, “heck no, I was writing about MY life.” Instead, I bit my tongue and just said “thank you.” It’s good to have a filter. Wish mine worked this well more often.
A person who possesses any kind of artistic talent needs to understand that it’s a gift. You didn’t do anything special in order to receive this gift, you were just born lucky. What you DO with that gift…how hard you work to develop it, how you choose to share it, whether or not you use it to try to improve the quality of other people’s lives…that’s the part you can take pride in. If you make the very most of whatever talent you were born with, then you can look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Good job.”